Pitching your game as ‘hard’ is just fine by me. Granted, you may be alienating a whole swathe of gamers from the outset, but if that’s how you wish your game to be seen, then there is no problem in my book. But the issue is, many ‘hard’ games also come across as ‘unfair’ and the line between the two really shouldn’t be crossed. So is Unit 4 – the debut console title from Gamera Games – just hard, or does it also come across unfair?
Well, it’s definitely a mix of both.
Unit 4 is a platformer from a bygone age. Coming resplendent in some lovely pixelated visuals, and having a looping ‘90s soundtrack to boot – one which I strangely really like – it initially seems like something many gamers would enjoy. That is even more the case when you are allowed the option to ride a little spaceship across the galaxy, dropping in on different planets in order to experience the main platforming joy.
Add in the fact that you get to control four pretty distinct characters; Blue, Green, Red and Yellow, each of whom have their own unique skills, and you’ll quickly understand the draw behind it. But a platformer is only as good as the mechanics which hold it together. Something in which Unit 4 lets itself down.
Imprecise is the word that I’m looking for, and you’ll constantly be left repeating the same old platforming sections over and over, and over, again, as not the difficulty, but the utter unfairness it brings takes hold.
But let me take you through the characters first, and whilst each are able to move left, right and jump as you would expect, the addition of one unique skill for each allows you to solve any puzzling aspect you may come across. Not that the puzzles are particularly difficult to get past mind.
Blue is the leader of the gang, and will be your most used character by far. This is because his double jump ability allows you to move from pillar to post with ease, jumping spiked chasms and hopping onto the heads of bad guys as regularly as is required. Red is the brute and comes with a head on charge that is useful for battering his way past and through enemies, whilst the little Green guy has a useful grapple hook to allow you access to those areas which initially seem out of reach. Finally we have Yellow, the team member who can magically ghost his way through solid wall, and solid enemy, in order to keep out of harm’s way. He may initially seem like a bit of an afterthought, and Unit 4 could most definitely get by as Unit 3, but Yellow is great for picking up the scattered coins which are found throughout the stages. And if you wish to 100% each of the levels included, then coin collection is going to be key.
Rotation of team members is done in a cinch, with a hit of the bumpers, and you’ll need to utilise each and every one in order to navigate your way safely through – okay, maybe not Yellow, but you can should you so wish. For the most part though, standard jumping action, and a whole load of patience, is usually all that is required.
The stages themselves are well created too, with just enough exploration opportunities to ensure Unit 4 isn’t a completely linear left to right scrolling affair. With an obvious difference between each one you stumble upon, you should never really get too bored of what you find either. There is obviously a well structured thought process behind the addition of new obstacles and enemies, with them being drip fed into the game at a consistent rate.
If I’m honest, Unit 4 is an addictive little beast, with just enough teasing aspects to ensure you wish to continue your journey. At least that will be the case for those who like their games to test. Because you see, if you’re not one from the challenging neck of the woods, then you may find the combination of constant deaths, lengthy levels and imprecise controls too much to bear.
Repeating moments, levels and actions multiple times is something you will be doing throughout Unit 4. And even though I’m happy to occasionally challenge myself with my games, I’m not particularly happy to have to put up with the a few inconsistencies that have been included in Unit 4.
Jumping is as loose as you are likely to find, and I’ve regularly found myself missing a leap to a platform, failing to land on the head of an enemy and just getting utterly frustrated with Unit 4 multiple times. No one jump seems to be like another and that sees much of your progress filled with leaps of faith… leaps which usually result in death.
Additionally, the collision detection between player and enemy or obstacle are, annoyingly, just off. This again leads to multiple deaths as you battle with the imprecise nature of that too. Clipping the edge of a surface meanwhile, only to find that you haven’t actually made the jump like you thought, is hugely frustrating – as you would imagine – allowing for little confidence to spread throughout your game.
You can also throw in the stupidly long, multi-sectioned levels to the negatives list. This is because, should you get drawn away from the game due to real life situations, it fails to allow any real save point. That in turn requires a complete and utter restart from the very beginning of each level, completely disregarding the fact that you may have spent a good half hour battling through a long hard stage. That means you will need to put up with all those platforming and collision inconsistencies again. Granted, the checkpoint system itself is a good one, with well placed respawn points, but turn the game off mid-level at your peril.
You see, what I really want from a platformer is something that allows me the chance to jump in and out, firing out a couple of quick levels whilst I have time to spare. Aside from a few of the stages which are over in no time at all, Unit 4 doesn’t ever really allow that.
What it does allow however is the opportunity to jump into the game with a local friend or three. Kind of.
The main campaign of Unit 4 can be enjoyed by up to four local players, with each one taking charge of one of the four characters. That in itself is a fairly good call because not only is there more chance to grab the collectibles, but the way Gamera have implemented things, allows for a great deal of cooperation. You see, there will be moments in Unit 4 in which not all characters are able to negotiate their way through, but should they die a death, fall off the screen or get left behind, they suddenly see themselves as a floating, completely controllable, head. With the other characters forging a way forward, when the time is right, all the dead guy needs to do is float over to the rest of the team to become one again. It’s a rather great way of working as a co-op team in the tough world of Unit 4, and it just works brilliantly. Obviously you lose a bit of the smooth character switching action that a solo player gets, but for the chance to play through Unit 4 with a friend, that is something which can just about be forgiven.
Unfortunately, should you not have read this review, or have been completely clued up with everything Unit 4 brings, then you may completely have missed the local co-op boat. That’s because other than the ‘Press A to join’ notification hidden in amongst the muddy map screens, there is little way of knowing that you can even play the game in a multiplayer format. It’s also strange to not be able to utilise a full drop in-drop out system, as that would have pushed Unit 4 on another notch again.
There is also the weird addition of a few mini games should you wish to experience a short sharp hit of Unit 4 with a friend. Personally, whilst it’s nice to have the added option, these mini games seem a bit pointless. Instead, I feel that Gamera Games could, and should, have just let it be, leaving Unit 4 as a full campaign experience, focusing all their effort on making the main event as good as it could be, instead of wasting time with needless little add-ons.
For all my troubles with Unit 4 – and there have been more than a few – it must be said that the overall idea is a good one. The option to rotate characters on the fly works well, whilst whizzing round in a little space ship, landing on different planets and trying to navigate your way through the platforming levels, with friends alongside you, should be a hell of a lot of fun. But, the difficulty and unjust feel that comes about means it will probably be more suited to the sadistic maniacs who are happy to put up with a tough life.